Landing Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

As previously promised, I am today hosting a new YA  author on The Landing Bookshelves. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, a professor from Limerick University, publishes her first novel today. I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of Back to Blackbrick before Christmas. I was immediately attracted by both the time travelling element of the story and the back drop of ‘The Big House’ where so many fascinating stories often lurk. It is clearly a fascination that many readers and writers share. The great houses of Ireland and Britain have long provided much food for thought.

book cover with big iron gates

Back to Black Brick

This kind of setting always interests me for personal reasons, in that my late grandfather was a gardener at Grove Hall in Harborne, Birmingham (demolished in the 1970s) home of a prominent local family. The grounds are now a public park. I  recently spotted a large cedar tree in a photograph of the grounds of Grove Hall; it dawned on me that it must be the same tree that I played under as a child, when the grounds had been handed over to the council. Time travel of a sort, perhaps.

I asked Sarah to talk to us about the background to Back to Blackbrick and about the research that underpinned the novel. Like me, Sarah admits to a fascination with the life and history of the big country house. When we chatted last week, we talked a little about this, mentioning the brilliant Abandoned Mansions series of books by Tarquin Blake (see previous post).

Here is Sarah’s piece, written especially for #LandingAuthor, in which she talks about her influences:

How a history book helped to inform and inspire my first novel

At the centre of my first novel, there is a big house called Blackbrick Abbey. Two big avenues lead up to it – one from the south and one from the north. In the grounds there are stables, beautiful horses, big trees and an orchard with apple sheds and a gate lodge. Very early on in the story, Cosmo, the main character, gets a key to the gates of Blackbrick from his brilliant, lovely grandfather. But it’s only when Cosmo gets there, that he realises he’s been sent to the past in order to recover his granddad’s failing memory. The huge old house contains secrets that will help him to make sense of important things in his life.

I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the idea of ‘Big Houses’ and the complicated things they represent.  I was captivated, as generations of children were, by Misselthwaite Manor in The Secret Garden and later, by the strange evocative Anglo-Irish climate of Danielstown in Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September, by Molly Keane’s descriptions of a family keeping up appearances in the crumbling manor of her deliciously dark Time After Time and to Evelyn Waugh’s heartbreaking Brideshead Revisited. In all of these stories, the big house sits silent and gigantic at the heart – symbolizing family identities and their labyrinthine dynamics and secrets.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that when I started to write my own novel, a house like this would somehow become a crucial part of the story’s backdrop. When the idea for Back to Blackbrick was being formed, I remember stumbling upon the non-fiction gem by historian Terence Dooley, entitled The Decline of the Big House in Ireland. That’s when a major part of the plot crystallized in my head, and I decided that my character was going to have to spend some time in the past. Writers often warn that too much research can distract novelists from getting on with the story – that if you get too immersed in the history of an era you disappear into the research, abandoning the novel. But when I read Dooley’s book, replete as it is with wonderful and impeccably researched historical descriptions, the opposite happened – it spurred the creative writing side of my brain with the curiosity to explore hints of a human story that could lie behind the historical facts.

While Back to Blackbrick is set in both the present and the past, and while I have tried to paint the historical references with a light touch, Terence Dooley’s book gave me a rich sense of themes that eventually became a really important part of the story – reminding me never to underestimate the power of historical non-fiction to provide luminous raw material for storytelling.

head and shoulders photo

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is a professor at the University of Limerick. Late at night, she writes stories for her children. Her first novel, Back to Blackbrick (Orion Children’s Books) is out on Feb 7th.

With many thanks to Sarah for joining me as a guest on #LandingAuthor and lots of luck with Back to Blackbrick. If you would like more infromation take a look at Sarah’s agent’s website here.

Photo credit: Liam Burke/Press 22


Landing Author: Paul Anthony Shortt: Locked Within

Paul Anthony Shortt

The Author…

Now as promised last week, here are the answers to a few questions that I put to debut author Paul Anthony Shortt on the publication of his urban fantasy, Locked Within. I was slightly worried that I had asked too many questions, but Paul gamely answered all of them most eloquently…

CM: You have talked about Ritchie Blackmore’s music being a starting point for Locked Within, and I wondered what other music you feel has influenced your work?

PAS: Wow, where to start? Music is integral to my writing. I have a large collection, a lot of it from film scores, and I listen to it daily. Once a particular piece sets in my mind, I’ll start imagining scenes that suit the music as though I were creating a movie in my head.   For Locked Within, of course “Locked Within the Crystal Ball” by Blackmore’s Night was essentially my main theme song. Another song of theirs, “The Circle,” was an influence as it is specifically about cycles of death and rebirth, and the question of whether we can break free from our own fates. I used Northern Kings’ cover of “We Don’t Need Another Hero” to get me in the mindset to write about a New York that has been beaten down by supernatural oppression.   I also listened to a lot of Nightwish, Bon Jovi, and film scores by the likes of Hans Zimmer as background music while I wrote. I love big, sweeping sounds, the kind that inspire a sense of epic myth. The recent Chris Nolan Batman movies, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, even Rango and Shrek all have scores that fire my imagination and set my heart racing. I’d encourage anyone, regardless of how they feel about a specific movie, to take time to listen to the music. It’s a whole new dimension to explore.

CM: I was reading that the Greek legends were your favourite mythology, but do you have an Irish mythological hero?

PAS: Cú Chulainn, hands down. He’s our Hercules. The greatest warrior, cunning and brave, but still tragically flawed both by temper and commitment to oaths which eventually lead him into battle against his closest friend, Ferdia. My favourite stories are of characters who aren’t just extremely capable and can defeat any enemy with ease, but where they see that their strengths can’t resolve all problems, where they have to learn new ways of overcoming their foes, or face tragic consequences.

CM: Would you talk us though the process of planning out the main characters in Locked Within? What system do you use to keep track of important details of personality and character history?

PAS: When starting out I tend to just go with the flow. I’ll start out with a Word document that lists my characters by name and write brief descriptions of their appearance and personalities. Mostly that’s just to get the details clear in my head. When I’m not writing, I’m usually running through important scenes in my head, especially on the way to and from work and listening to music, so by the time I sit back down to write, the details have been repeated so much in my mind that I often never need to check back over my notes.

For me, writing is far more work than just typing the words. Every spare moment I have, I spend thinking about some aspect of my current work in progress. So while I have my notes as a back-up if I haven’t had a chance to work on it for a while, usually the act that I’m almost constantly thinking and planning means I can pull up whatever information I need as I write.

CM: You have said that you view New York city as being a character in its own right in your urban fantasy. How would you describe that character and what gender would the city be do you think?

book jacket with a man's face

Locked Within


PAS: I don’t think of the city in terms of gender. I think the soul, the essence of something as universally influential as New York would transcend gender completely. However if that soul were to take on a human form, I think it would present itself as female. New York is in many ways the capital city of the western world. It is central to popular fiction and for many years was the gateway to America for countless immigrants, with the Statue of Liberty looking on, serving as a mother to whole cultures and nations being reborn right there in her port as they started their new lives.   In Locked Within, New York is that grandmother who lived through the war and had to grow up hard, dealing with prejudice and hardship. It’s tough as nails, forged in fires as everyone looked to it for guidance. But it hasn’t lost its kinder side. It’s just tired and weary, so long left to fend for itself with no-one to help. Once it realises that someone still cares, it’ll stand back up and fight to the last to protect its family, its inhabitants.

CM: I was looking back to when you first began your blog in 2010. Can you explain to us how important your blog is to your novel-writing process?

PASMy blog has been absolutely essential. Quite honestly, if not for my blog I wouldn’t have my book deal. The managing editor of my publisher, WiDo Publishing, was actually one of my first blog followers, and it was through a contest she held that my book wound up being sent to WiDo.

Since then, the blog has been a place where I can pitch ideas, share details of how I work, and details of my own life. It’s helped me connect with so many people and make so many friends who have all give me incredible support on this journey. Just being able to announce something like the fact I had started writing the sequel, and getting that immediate feedback, is a great motivator.

CM: Paul, as you know, writing can be a lonely business, so many writers belong to groups for support and criticism of their work. Would you tell us about your own support network?

PAS: Some of my closest friends are writers as well, so that helps. I have a core team of critique partners, and we share our work with each other as we write, offering feedback and advice. I’d be utterly lost without them, which is why they’re both first on my acknowledgements page! I also have a group of friends who act as my beta readers, giving me critical feedback. They all keep pestering me for the next book and it really helps to see such enthusiasm.   Of course, my biggest supporter is my wife, Jen. She’s incredible. Always understanding if I need some extra time to write. Always making sure I eat properly and take regular breaks, or insisting we go to the cinema or meet some friends just so I can unwind and get my mind off my work. I would actually crack up without her to keep me in check. It’s just as well that I’ve got all my writing work for the year out of the way, because we’re having twins in December and it’s time for me to make sure she’s looking after herself now!

CM: Can you describe for the readers a typical writing day (if indeed there is such a thing). Is there a particular place in which you prefer to write?

PAS: Monday to Friday, I get into work at least an hour before I’m due to start so I can write. Then when lunch time comes around I spend that writing as well. If I’m really in the zone, I can get a full day’s work done in that time, but sometimes I need to do a little extra at home in the evenings. For weekends, I’ve long since given up on lie-ins and I’m up early to write for a couple of hours before breakfast.   My favourite place to write is in our front room where I have my desktop pc set up and my leather office chair. It’s the most comfortable chair I own and perfect for writing in. It also helps that I have my entire music collection transferred to my pc so I can run my playlists to keep me focused.

CM: And finally, Paul: if you were casting your book for a film production, who would you choose to play the main leads (assuming that money is no object) and which director would you want?

PAS: I love this kind of question! As it happens, I had certain actors in mind as I wrote the book, so here’s the “cast” list:

Nathan, the hero of the book: James McAvoy or Ewan McGregor (honestly can’t decide!)

Dorian, one of the primary antagonists: Michael Wincott

Ben, Nathan’s best friend: David Boreanaz

Laura, Nathan’s girlfriend: Rachel McAdams

Mike, Nathan’s dad: John Mahoney

Cynthia, Nathan and Laura’s friend: Olivia Wilde

Roland, a sort of mentor to Nathan: Steve Buscemi

Adams, a vampire-hunter: Dennis Haysbert

Lane, another vampire-hunter: Jason Statham

Cadence, a witch: Thandie Newton

Creek, Dorian’s right-hand man: Willem Dafoe

Eli, a vampire: Keifer Sutherland

As for a director, I love to see highly-detailed worlds created in a movie, and also well-choreographed action sequences. There’s a trend in movies to make it hard to see fight scenes taking place and I always feel a bit short-changed when I can’t see what’s going on. With that in mind, I think I’d choose Guillermo Del Toro to direct.

Many thanks to Paul Anthony Short for kindly answering a few questions about his work.

Good luck with Locked Within!


Announcing Landing Author: Paul Anthony Shortt

Next week (on the 15th November to be precise) I will be entertaining a second guest on my literary landing. Paul Anthony Shortt will be submitting himself to a gentle grilling as part of his blog tour to promote his debut novel Locked Within.

book jacket with a man's face

Locked Within

Locked Within officially released yesterday, launches on Thursday 8th November at Hughes and Hughes Bookshop in Dundrum, Dublin. This urban fantasy novel is set in New York, where the hero Nathan Shepherd feels he is destined to fight the supernatural predators that threaten the inhabitants of the city:
‘The supernatural realm and the mundane world have existed side by side since the dawn of time. Predators walk the streets, hidden by our own ignorance. Once, the city of New York was protected, but that was another age.

Now a creature emerges from the city’s past to kill again, with no-one to hear the screams of its victims. The lost and the weak, crushed under the heels of the city’s supernatural masters, have given up hope.

But one man finds himself drawn to these deaths. Plagued by dreams of past lives, his obsession may cost him friends, loved ones, even his life. To stop this monster, he must unlock the strength he once had. He must remember the warrior he was, to become the hero he was born to be.

His name is Nathan Shepherd, and he remembers.’

Well, that was just a little teaser taken from Paul Anthony Shortt’s blog (here) and next week I will be posting up answers to a few questions that I put to him about his writing and what influenced the creation of Locked Within. Paul will be talking about music, mythology and his favourite place to write. I also asked him about which actor he would choose to play his hero, should Hollywood come knocking!

Meanwhile, if you are in Dublin tomorrow pop along and meet the man himself and get ‘Locked Within’ Paul’s fantastic world…